Earlier this year, in February to be exact, I had an unexpected pregnancy aborted. Today, I'm ready to talk about it.
I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of the new year. It was a Friday, and the time was around 5:45pm. It was already pitch black outside, and I was lounging around my parents house, with three-day unwashed hair, wearing make-up from the night before. I bought a pregnancy test from a pharmacy that was adjacent to my local Post Office branch. Eight pounds fucking 50p it cost me, for two tests, which was a bit of a pisstake, I think, considering I already knew I was pregnant, and had known for almost a week.
My body felt completely different. My skin had broken out in awful, large blemishes around my jaw and on my chin. My tits were swollen and sore, and my nipples had almost completely changed colour. I started eating triple the amount of food I would normally eat in a whole day, in one evening alone; never feeling full or satisfied. I knew.
I'd had minor scares in the past, but none of them were serious. I know this, because whenever my period was even a day late (as someone who has always had a back-to-front lifestyle of varying sleeping and eating patterns, my menstrual cycle was as regular as snowfall on Christmas Day, or seeing the Starbucks barista spell your name correctly on your takeaway coffee cup), I would take a test, just as a precautionary measure. I realise now, that I always did this, knowing somehow in my subconscious that the result would be negative.
I went from pharmacy to pharmacy, supermarket store to supermarket store, day after day for over a week beforehand. I grazed past the isle that stocked the Clear Blues and the First Responses. Nowadays, they're all stored in security protected cases that you need to take to a service assistant in order to make a purchase. There was no clean break for me, here. No Mission Impossible, get-in-and-out-without-being-seen type operation was going to be taking place under any circumstance. For a week, therein, I chickened out every time.
When I finally decided to bite the bullet and take the test I knew would confirm my worst nightmare, I found that it would only take about five seconds to start showing a positive result. Apparently, I've heard, from my friend who is a dispenser for a pharmacist, you can get false negatives, but if you get a positive, there's no way it can be wrong.
At first, I don't cry. My entire family are downstairs in the house somewhere, either watching the telly or playing games on the computer. If I cry, I'll immediately be sold out. I never cry.
Fuck me, I really want to cry.
I run to the back of my garden; which, at the current time of year (mid-January), is pretty bloody cold. I call my best friend; and as it turns out, she already knew too. Never knock anything you hear about a woman's intuition; because as much as it can be misused as an adapted colloquialism, it is in fact, a very real thing. Intuitively, I knew that I was pregnant before I had the test confirm it for me. Intuitively, my best friend knew that I was pregnant because I was so desperate to talk to her, I called her on the land line phone at her parents house.
As a group, my closest friends and I had always had a strict contingency plan to be put into place in situations like this. In fact, we've been talking in length about "what if" since we were about 16 years old. If I had to guess, I'd say that all women and girls do.
Here is where the situation began to get difficult for me.
As a fiercely opinionated, pro-choice feminist, you'd imagine that the decision to terminate this unwanted, unexpected pregnancy would be easy. Ha. Think again. It's very easy to sit in a spectator seat and waffle on and on about how a woman's choice is her own, and how she has the ability and the agency with which to make informed decisions about her own body; and, of course, that all such decisions should be treated with respect and grace by her, and by anyone she decides to confide in about her circumstantial crisis. But being a support cushion for someone who is contemplating having an abortion, and actually being that person contemplating having an abortion is so polar in opposition that I can't quite describe it with words. And, as someone who is currently trying to make a career out of describing things with words, that's a pretty big deal.
In total, I probably spent about six hours looking into possible alternatives to having a termination. Could I raise a baby by myself? What would happen if I were to carry the pregnancy to term, and offer it up for adoption? Could I live with myself knowing that a part of my being was wandering the earth without me; not knowing if by offering that part of me to another family could mean that I was risking putting a life in danger? Could I survive knowing that that part of me would be journeying through life, thinking that he or she had a mother that didn't want them, and didn't love them?
I was in turmoil. In the mornings, I was struck with a blinding sense of clarity: I am not keeping this baby. By the mid afternoon, I was allowed the luxury of going about my day for a while without being consumed by my thoughts about pregnancy. By the time evening had come, I was unsure again. When concrete darkness ensued, and the evening fell into the early hours of the next morning, my mind was conflicted again.
In the end, I had to pick the outcome to the situation that would make me hate myself the least. Retrospectively, it was like picking a way you'd like to die. Obviously, you're going to go for the easiest, most painless option you can. But, in addition, you're still going to die. And all of this is quite ironic, seeing as it wasn't my life I was choosing to end.
I decided eventually to go ahead and have a termination, because I would have been due to give birth either shortly before, or shortly after starting my NCTJ training in Brighton. I'm moving away. My life is changing. I'm finally getting everything I want and have worked for. Why me? Why now?
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, to the moment I walked out of the abortion clinic for the last time, I felt shame. I felt guilt. At the ripe old age of 22, I was old enough to fucking know better. I was angry, because I was on the pill when I fell pregnant. I was angry, because I hate hormonal contraceptives like that, but when I started having regular sex after a long period of having no sex at all, I felt like I needed a more concrete method of contraception to make myself feel safe and secure. I was angry because I wasn't in a relationship with the person I was sleeping with, and am notoriously known for having several casual sexual partners. I was angry, because I know how it could have looked to anyone I told about my situation. I was angry because that's not fair, not justified, and I didn't deserve to be judged for making grown up decisions about who I want to have sex with and on what terms. I was angry, most of all, that I allowed myself to be the judge in this situation.
I was scared. And I'm not scared of anything. I went for my initial consultation at the sexual health and GUM clinic near where I live. Following this, I had a telephone consultation with the Marie Stopes International abortion clinic, during which I booked a date to come in for the procedure. There are two types of abortion that are made available: a medical one, and a surgical one. The surgical procedure entails having an initial scan, and then being put under a local anaesthetic so the pregnancy can be "removed" from the body via some sort of vacuum. The procedure would take five to 10 minutes in total, and has more than a 96% success rate.
After hearing an awful tale from my mum about how, when she had a surgical procedure to have part of her womb removed, she regained full consciousness mid-way through the operation and was able to feel the searing pain of having her reproductive organs destroyed with a laser device; I was less than willing to allow myself into a situation where that might happen to me. I opted, instead, for a medical abortion. The procedure would be stretched across two days; on the first, I would go in for a scan, and to take two pills that would essentially "stop the pregnancy". After that, it would no longer be viable, or alive. It would not continue to grow inside of me, like it had been for over four weeks. On the second day, I would return to take four more pills that would prompt the removal of the pregnancy tissue from my body. My womb would contract, and I would miscarry.
All along the way, I was told that this wouldn't be a pleasant route down which to travel. Not only was the success rate less than 95%, as, in some cases, pregnancy tissue can remain within the body if the procedure is not completely successful in terminating it. I was warned that it would be unpleasant, painful, and could last for weeks. But still, my fear of being put under an anaesthetic still made it more appealing to me than the surgical procedure.
On leaving the clinic for the last time on the second day with a gut full of medication, I stepped out into rainfall. If I had to guess, I'd say it took about 30 minutes for the miscarriage to begin. A friend of mine drove me to the clinic that day, as was advised by the nurse I consulted with on my first visit. We pulled over in a service station some 25 miles away from home so I could vomit. I remember saying at the time, that when I recount this memory in the tale of my life, I will probably name the chapter as "No Dick Is Worth This". And I still stand by that.
Miscarrying a pregnancy is probably one of the most horrifyingly painful experiences my body has ever had to endure. I remember the temperature of my body being so high, I had to lay on the floor of my kitchen just to try and stay cool. I remember bleeding all over my parents cream sofa, and having to pretend I was just having an unusually heavy period. I remember being up until the small hours of the morning hugging porcelain because I was in a state of perpetual nausea. I remember journeying back down to the end of the garden, bent over double as I clutch my waist and my stomach, stifling what was, at the time, screams of absolute agony. This continued for two weeks.
After four weeks of a consistently heavy blood flow and intermittent waves of agonising cramps and aches, I visited my GP to ask about whether or not this was normal. My temperature is still abnormally high, pushing 94 degrees Fahrenheit at its highest. My bum had barely scraped the seat before he delivered the news that I'd somehow contracted an infection. I was warned about this by all of the several nurses that I encountered throughout the termination process. They told me that the chances were slim, but if I were to contract an infection then the results would be unsavoury, to say the least. I was given a course of antibiotics to take over a two week period, but was informed that due to the nature of the infection, there was now up to a 50% chance that I may not be able to carry a pregnancy again. In layman's terms, there is a possibility that I am now infertile.
This is the part where I begin to cry.
Less than two years previous to this, I had visited and spoken to the same GP who helped me deal with depression. He delivered the news of my infection and possibly infertility with the same level of empathy that he offered the last time I was sat in the hot seat: that being, absolutely none at all. But hey, at least he looked me in the eye when he spoke to me this time.
As a single 22-year-old girl with her entire life ahead of her, this isn't exactly the most promising of news to receive. As someone who had previously espoused views about choosing to follow a career over pursuing a marriage and making a home and having children of my own, you'd imagine that it wouldn't have phased me to hear that I might not actually be able to have my own children. At first, I tried to rationalise the situation in my head by re-affirming these personal views, and tried to dupe myself into thinking that it wasn't a big deal, and that I didn't really care.
But the reality of the situation is that as soon as the choice is provisionally taken away from you, and the agency I once had to change my mind about maybe, one day, having a baby of my own at a time when I am ready to raise it, and give it the life it deserves to have, is sacrificed by me because of my own neglect, it becomes a more bitter pill to swallow.
10 months on since first discovering that I was pregnant, I still feel like I deserve the outcome that I have procured. I often wonder if I would have made a different decision about whether or not I would have terminated my pregnancy, if I had been able to look forward into the future and foreseen what happened in the end of it all. I know I'm not ready to be a mother to anyone; especially seeing as I'm struggling to find ways to look after myself most days, but would I have changed the course of my life especially if I knew that it could possibly have been my only chance to experience being a mother? I mean, I know I like to joke about it, but I'm not a mother to my cat. So that doesn't really count.
I know I'll be judged for what I did, and for choosing to go public with how I dealt with it. I'm trying to drown some previously un-drownable demons in a way of trying to free myself from feeling like a coward. I'm trying to explain why it frustrates me that there are men and women who have so many prolific, colourful, "right on" views about abortion; who try to make me feel like more or less of a murderer by trying to politicise away the trauma.
I'm not being brave for what I did or what I am doing now. In 2013, 200,000 abortions were carried out in England and Wales. For every 1,000 women who had a pregnancy terminated, 30 of them were only 22. I am not brave. I am a statistic.
But I am being honest, and I guess for now that will have to do.